Reviewed by Nigel Chester
The cold cut across our faces and rain stabbed through our coats as we made our way to the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, but the beautiful façade shone brightly across Theatre Square and a warm welcome awaited us inside.
The staff are so friendly and accommodating and there was a buzz of anticipation for tonight’s performance Macbeth by the National Theatre. As a set text for both GCSE and A’ level, there were a large number of students all of whom looked excited to be there.
I hated Shakespeare at school. School is most people’s first encounter with the Bard. We did Julius Caesar. Since then I have come to enjoy his work loving a Midsummer Night’s Dream particularly. However, I have avoided anything too dark, that is until now. So, it was with some trepidation I took my seat.
Unusually the curtain was raised, and an industrial post-apocalyptic world lay before us. I knew that the play would open with three witches, but nothing could have prepared me for the nature of their arrival. In that first moment I was drawn in.
It is said that Shakespeare used real incantations and that because of this; witches of the day cursed the play. It must be remembered that In Elizabethan England, belief in witches was real and endemic. Superstitions being strong in the world of theatre it is often referred to as The Scottish Play, to avoid the curse. First performed in 1606, whilst Shakespeare was under the patronage of James 1 of England & 6th of Scotland, there is undoubted bias. I wondered if the political power struggles would resonate today, and how they did.
I think that seven seasons of The Walking Dead had helped prepare me for the abstract setting. And I understood why in a post-industrial age the use of daggers and swords had not been replaced by guns.
The National Theatre who brought us War Horse, sets out to entertain, challenge and inspire. To my mind it did all three, I was certainly entertained, this was edge of the seat stuff. It didn’t matter a jot that I had no previous knowledge of the play and was actually surprised at how much I did know, “Lay on, Macduff”
This is a story of a power struggle, of families and linage. Of politics of fear and of hope. It is dark, delivering dismembered babies in carrier bags was particularly gruesome.
So, the stand out things for me are many, but firstly the music. Composed by Orlando Gough, it was brilliant, not that I could hum a note of it now! It was throbbing and had areas of discord. It underpinned the whole play. Obviously, the actors, whilst all clearly worthy of their professional status, the performance of the evening for me was Patrick Robinson as Banquo, his ghost was stunning. How silence can say so much and be so menacing. Some things did jar a little, as Macbeth (Michael Nardone) took on the clothing of King Duncan (Tom Mannion) whom he had just murdered. He looked more like a wedding singer. Red trousers, black silk shirt. The moment was lost.
I did get the feeling that some students were left disappointed. The large Royal banquet, reduced to a Nissen hut and billy cans. However, it is moving out of preconceptions and comfort zones that will gain the highest grades.
If I were to mark this, I would give it an A*.
Tickets cost from £10 to £34.50 (booking fees may apply).
Macbeth is at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham from 22-26 January 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.trch.co.uk or call the box office on 0115 989 5555.
Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall, Theatre Square, Nottingham, NG1 5ND